Getting Ready for the Job Search

[Sharing this week’s Chronicle Vitae column for all of you who are gearing up for the Fall 2016 job market]

I’m gearing up to go on the academic job market this fall. What should I do to get ready?

I answered a similar question in a semi-facetious mode last summer, so be sure and read that. This year I’ll respond in a more serious manner.

Your first task: Hammer out your candidate platform. That is a list of six to eight bullet points that describe your basic experiences and goals— i.e., your current and future plans regarding research, teaching, grant-writing, program-building, and potential collaborations. Each of those points is a statement of “this, not that.” Meaning, that with each one you establish who you are as a candidate in ways that are distinctive to you. I discuss how to do this in more detail in my book (see Chapter 8). But a key point to remember: Make sure your platform is oriented firmly forward to your identity as a professional and not backward to your identity as a graduate student.

Prepare different platforms for the different fields or areas that you are targeting in your job search. For example, as a cultural anthropologist of Japan, I would have one platform oriented toward positions in cultural anthropology, and another oriented toward jobs in Asian studies.

Start drafting your job-application documents now. These documents are extremely easy to write badly, and extraordinarily difficult to write well. They will each require many, many drafts to rise above the standard level of dreck that most applicants produce on their first (or second, or third) try. You can find plenty of advice here and in my book.

Write different versions of your cover letter and research statement for the different fields or areas you are targeting. You will emphasize distinct themes and courses depending on the field. To use my own example, in a cover letter for an anthro job, I would focus the teaching paragraphs on important anthropology courses such as “Intro to Cultural Anthropology,” “Ethnographic Methods,” “Social Theory,” or topical courses such as “Gender and Globalization,”while for an Asian-studies letter, I would focus on courses such as “Intro to Japan,” “East Asian Popular Culture,” “Women in East Asia,” and “Gender and Sexuality in Japan.”


Write out a master list of references, and establish whom you’ll ask to recommend you for the different types of jobs to which you anticipate applying. Contact those references to share your updated CV and drafts of your cover letter. The point of doing that is not to get their comments or edits on your documents (although you can incorporate any valuable suggestions offered), but rather to give your references a thorough sense of you as a job seeker, as opposed to a graduate student. Make sure to update your references on any and all accomplishments such as publications, grants, conferences, and so on.

Apply for relevant major grants and conferences with summer deadlines, to make sure your CV has current content in those categories. If you know that you’ll be attending a fall conference, get in touch now with senior scholars or book editors whom you might wish to meet while there — not necessarily because they have any connection to your immediate job search, but because valuable networking yields results over the long term.

Make sure to submit at least one article for publication this summer and/or finish up revisions on any articles that are in revise-and-resubmit. Publications are the gold standard of the job market and you won’t make any headway without them. Use what’s left of the summer to fill the pipeline.

If you are in a book field, hammer out a timeline for submitting your book proposal to major academic presses, and lay out a five-year writing trajectory that includes all the articles necessary for the type of job you hope to attain, as well as the book manuscript.

Gather about you a group of friends, allies, and mentors who will support you — body and soul — as you launch into the fray. The job market will brutalize you. You need to ensure that you are caring for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally through things like exercise, recreation, hobbies, and friendship.

Good luck!

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Getting Ready for the Job Search — 1 Comment

  1. Dear Karen, I would like to ask you how difficult it might be for a person from Europe, with a PhD from a Belgian university and no experience of working in the US, to apply from abroad and get an academic position in the US? Is it better to apply for a postdoc first and then start searching for a tenure-track position? Thank you.

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